Set in Denmark in the here and now, The Quiet Girl centers around Kaspar Krone, a world-renowned circus clown with a deep love for the music of Johan Sebastian Bach, and an even deeper gambling debt. Wanted for tax evasion and on the verge of extradition, Krone is drafted into the service of a mysterious order of nuns who promise him reprieve from the international authorities in return for his help safeguarding a group of children with mystical abilities—abilities that Krone also shares. When one of the children goes missing, Krone sets off to find the young girl and bring her back, making a shocking series of discoveries along the way about her identity and the true intentions of his young wards. The result is a fast-paced, philosophical thriller blending social realism with the literary fantastic and pitting art and spirituality against corporate interests and nothing less than the will to war by the industrialized world. The Quiet Girl is a masterful, inventive novel that marks the triumphal return of one of the great writers of the international literary world.
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Peter Hoeg, born in 1957 in Denmark, followed various callings—dancer, actor, sailor, fencer, and mountaineer—before turning seriously to writing. His work has been published in thirty-three countries. The Quiet Girl is his fifth novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Almighty had tuned each person in a musical key, and Kasper could hear it. Best in the brief, unguarded moments when people were nearby but didn’t yet know he was listening. So he waited by the window, as he was doing now.
It was cold. The way it could be only in Denmark, and only in April. When, in mad enthusiasm for the spring light, people turned off the central heating, brought their fur coats to the furrier, dispensed with their long underwear, and went outside. And only when it was too late, discovered that the temperature was at freezing, the relative humidity 90 percent, and the wind was from the north and went straight through clothing and skin, deep into the body, where it wrapped itself around the heart and filled it with Siberian sadness.
The rain was colder than snow, a heavy, fine rain that fell like a gray silk curtain. From behind that curtain a long black Volvo with tinted windows appeared. A man, a woman, and a child got out of the car, and at first it looked promising.
The man was tall, broad-shouldered, used to getting his own way—and capable of having a powerful impact on those around him if he didn’t. The woman was blond as a glacier and looked like a million bucks; she also looked smart enough to have earned it herself. The little girl had dignity and wore expensive clothes. It was like a tableau of a holy, wealthy family.
They reached the center of the courtyard, and Kasper got his first sense of their musical key. It was D-minor, at its worst. As in Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor. Great fateful pillars of music.
Then he recognized the little girl. At that precise moment the silence occurred.
It was very brief, perhaps a second, perhaps not at all. But while it lasted, it obliterated reality. It took away the courtyard, the rehearsal ring, Daffy’s office, the window. The bad weather, the April month. Denmark. The present time.
Then it was over. Vanished, as if it had never existed.
He clutched the door frame. There had to be a natural explanation. He’d suffered an attack of indisposition. A blackout. A temporary blood clot. No one survives with impunity two nights in a row, from eleven to eight in the morning, at the card table. Or it had been another tremor. The first big ones had been felt way out here.
He cautiously looked behind him. Daffy sat at the desk as if nothing had happened. Out in the courtyard the three figures struggled forward against the wind. It hadn’t been a tremor. It had been something else.
The true mark of talent is the ability to recognize when to give things up. He’d had twenty-five years of experience in rightly choosing to part with things. He need only say the word, and Daffy would deny him a home.
He opened the door and extended his hand.
“Avanti,” he said. “I’m Kasper Krone. Welcome.”
As the woman shook his hand, he met the little girl’s eyes. With a slight motion, evident only to him and her, she shook her head.
He took them into the practice room; they stood there looking around. Their sunglasses gave them a blank air, but their tone was intense. They had expected more finesse. Something in the style of the main stage at the Royal Theater, where the Royal Danish Ballet rehearses. Something like the reception rooms at Amalienborg Palace. With merbau and soft colors and gilded panels.
“Her name is KlaraMaria,” said the woman. “She’s a nervous child. She gets very tense. You were recommended to us by people at Bispebjerg Hospital. In the children’s psychiatric ward.”
A lie causes a delicate jarring to the system, even in a trained liar. So too in this woman. The little girl’s eyes focused on the floor.
“The fee is ten thousand kroner per session,” he said.
That was to get things moving. When they protested, it would initiate a dialogue. He would get a chance to listen to their systems more deeply.
They didn’t protest. The man took out his wallet. It opened like the bellows of an accordion. Kasper had seen wallets like that among the horse dealers when he was still performing at fairs. This one could have contained a small horse, a Falabella. From it emerged ten crisp, newly minted one-thousand-kroner bills.
“I must ask you to pay for two sessions in advance,” he said. “My accountant insists on it.”
Ten more bills saw the light of day.
He dug out his fountain pen and one of his old letterpress cards.
“I had a cancellation today,” he said, “so as it happens, I can just manage to squeeze her in. I’ll start by examining muscle tone and awareness of body rhythm. It will take less than twenty minutes.”
“Not today,” said the woman, “but soon.”
He wrote his telephone number on the card.
“I must be in the room,” she said.
He shook his head.
“I’m sorry. Not when one is working with children on a deep level.”
Something happened in the room—the temperature plummeted, all oscillatory frequencies fell, everything congealed.
He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, fifteen seconds later, the bills were still lying there. He put them in his pocket, before it was too late.
The three visitors turned around. Walked out through the office. Daffy held the outer door for them. They crossed the courtyard without looking back. Seated themselves in the Volvo. The car drove off, disappearing into the rain.
He leaned his forehead against the cold glass of the window. He wanted to put his fountain pen back in his pocket, into the warmth of the money. The money was gone.
There was a sound from the desk. A riffling sound. Like when you shuffle brand-new cards for one of Piaget’s games. On the desk in front of Daffy lay the small mahogany-colored stack of new bills.
“In your outer right-hand pocket,” said the watchman, “there are two hundred kroner. For a shave. And a hot meal. There’s also a message.”
The message was a playing card, the two of spades. On the back, written with his own fountain pen, were the words “Rigshospital. Staircase 52.03. Ask for Vivian.—Daffy.” That night he slept in the stables.
There were about twenty animals left, horses and a camel, most of them old or worthless. All the others were still in winter season with circuses in France and southern Germany.
He had his violin with him. He spread out his sheet and duvet in the stall with Roselil, half Berber, half Arabian. She was left behind because she didn’t obey anyone except her rider. And not even him.
He played the Partita in A-Minor. A single lightbulb in the ceiling cast a soft golden glow on the listening creatures. He had read in Martin Buber that the most spiritual people are those who are closest to animals. Also in Eckehart. In his sermon “The Kingdom of God Is at Hand.” One should seek God among the animals. He thought about the little girl.
When he was about nineteen, and had started to make a name for himself, he had discovered that there was money in his ability to access people’s acoustic essence, especially children’s. He began to cash in on it at once. After a couple of years he’d had ten private students per day, like Bach in Leipzig.
There had been thousands of children. Spontaneous children, spoiled children, marvelous children, catastrophic children.
Finally, there had been the little girl.
He put the violin into its case and held it in his arms, like a mother nursing her child. It was a Cremonese, a Guarneri, the last thing that remained from the good years.
He said his bedtime prayer. The closeness of the animals had calmed most of his anxiety. He listened to the weariness; it converged from all sides simultaneously. Just as he was about to determine its key, it crystallized into sleep.
Excerpted from The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg. Copyright © 2006 by Peter Hoeg. Translation copyright © 2006 by Nadia Christensen. Published in October 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
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